Holiday traditions to continue despite 2015 Macy’s closing
November 3, 2016 12:00 AM
A bear is displayed just as it was at Macy’s . Santaland is now located at the One Oxford Center for the season.
Ron Sloss, visual manager at Macy's in Pittsburgh Mills, adds snow to the historic Kaufmann's Clock window at the downtown Macy's on Nov. 20, 2013.
“SantaLand” decorations at One Oxford Centre.
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A Downtown holiday tradition that has captivated generations of Pittsburghers will live on for at least another year — but perhaps not in the same way as in the past.
Philadelphia developer Core Realty is working with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to once again decorate windows at the former Macy’s department store that closed in September 2015, even as a group that kept the old store’s Santaland operation going complete with visits with Santa is working to procure another new location this year.
For decades for many Pittsburghers, the holiday season wasn’t complete without an excursion to the massive 13-story department store to gaze at the animated windows, get a picture with Santa and maybe do a little shopping. Those traditions were threatened with the closing of the historic store before Christmas season last year.
They survived, but those looking for their holiday fix again this year may have to alter their route.
Jeremy Waldrup, the partnership’s CEO and president, cautioned Wednesday that the window display will be “different” from last year, when the PDP teamed with Core and others to decorate nine windows at the Smithfield Street landmark, fondly remembered by many as the Kaufmann’s department store.
For one thing, it appears the displays will stretch beyond the windows of the old store itself.
“There will be multiple locations. In addition to Macy’s, we will celebrate the spirit those windows have brought to the season in different ways this year,” Mr. Waldrup said.
The partnership hopes to make a formal announcement next week, with Mr. Waldup noting that some details are still in flux. This year, the organization is looking to celebrate the city’s bicentennial in the displays, he said.
In closing the Downtown location, Macy’s donated two iconic Pittsburgh-themed window displays, including one featuring holiday revelers meeting beneath the store’s famous clock. The partnership plans to incorporate those into this year’s displays, but Mr. Waldrup would not say whether they would be at the old store. He said the partnership wants to find a permanent home for them.
“Everybody loves those windows. They love to see them up. We want to figure out what makes the most sense for everyone,” he said.
Michael Samschick, CEO of Core Realty, which owns the Macy’s building, said he is willing to work with the partnership to keep the holiday tradition at the store — and even expand upon it. “We will give them full access, and whatever they would like to do, we’re going to give them the ability to do it,” he said.
Mr. Samschick said he hoped the displays this year “would be a little more robust than last year. I would love to see the whole building done. I will leave that up to them.”
He added Core is willing to give the partnership access to the windows every year, if feasible. “As long as we have window space, we will participate,” he said.
At the same time, it looks like another cherished Macy’s/Kaufmann’s tradition — Santaland — will survive another year, but not at One Oxford Centre, where it ended up last year after the store closing.
Organizers, working with CBS Radio Pittsburgh, are hoping to set up this season in the garden plaza at Heinz Hall, said Gene Stapleton, a spokeswoman for the group that kept Santaland alive in 2015.
They are planning to set up Santaland in Point State Park near the Santa Spectacular show on Light Up Night on Nov. 18 and hope to move to the Heinz Hall plaza after that.
Louise Sciannameo, vice president of public affairs for the Pittsburgh Symphony, owner of Heinz Hall, said the possible relocation is in the discussion stages. “We’re just exploring the possibilities now. We just have to work our way through the process,” she said.
Ms. Stapleton said her group looked at other spots, including Mellon Square, but liked Heinz Hall given all the holiday-related activities in the Cultural District — from performances of the “Nutcracker” to the “Christmas Story” musical.
The group won’t be able to use Oxford Centre this year because the building’s new owner is using the space for a newsstand.
Amy Mauk, senior events manager for CBS Radio Pittsburgh, said she is working with the symphony and sponsors to build a gingerbread house in the Heinz Hall plaza that would be used for Santaland, broadcasts, and to raise money for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Ms. Stapleton and her group worked hard last year to re-create Santaland after the Macy’s closing, even procuring a vintage Santa’s chair dating to the days of Kaufmann’s as well as two reindeer and other Santaland-related artifacts.
They even brought back two Santaland favorites among customers that Macy’s had discontinued — a wreath photo ornament and a “Santa and me” photo folder.
Despite being thrown together hastily, last year’s venture proved successful, Ms. Stapleton said.
“I’m not saying we made a giant profit, but we paid everything and everybody we needed to pay. We’re looking forward to another good year,” she said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.
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